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Park Service director must face House questioning on shutdowns

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

House lawmakers will get a chance Wednesday to grill the National Park Service about its decision to barricade the World War II Memorial and iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon, at the beginning of the government shutdown — though they had to subpoena the Park Service director to get him to attend.

A House aide said Jonathan B. Jarvis declined an invitation to appear, so the House had to compel his testimony through the subpoena.

An administration official countered that Mr. Jarvis had offered to show up after the shutdown ended and they had adequate resources to prepare. The official said the service's legislative affairs division has been furloughed during the shutdown.

The decisions made by the Park Service have irked those on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans, in particular, questioning the motives.

"Why did the Park Service barricade the Lincoln Memorial? Why are Americans being prevented from walking around the mall? Why were veterans turned away from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial?" Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the oversight committee, said in his prepared statement, an excerpt of which was provided to The Washington Times.

Mr. Issa, California Republican, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, sent a letter to the Park Service last week asking for all of Mr. Jarvis' communications and those of his deputy director about the shutdown. The two lawmakers said Mr. Jarvis has a history of stoking fears about spending cuts.

Also slated to appear Wednesday is the woman who runs the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean. The farm, which is on U.S.-owned lands but uses no federal funds, saw armed Park Police officers barricade the entrance at the beginning of the shutdown.

The hearing is being conducted by both the oversight and House Natural Resources committees, underscoring the broad interest from Congress in the Park Service's decision-making.

The Interior Department, which oversees the parks, began to reverse some of its decisions last week.

On Friday, the department signed agreements with five states to reopen national parks within their borders, as long as the states ponied up the money.

Similar agreements were reached during the 1995-1996 shutdown, but the Park Service initially had denied it had the legal authority to sign those agreements this year.

The Park Service also began allowing visitors to enter the World War II Memorial and other sites on the Mall if they were conducting First Amendment activities. That change was made after the Obama administration allowed a pro-immigration rally to take place on the Mall.

"Why are so many of these closure decisions reversed after there is media and congressional attention?" Mr. Issa will demand of Mr. Jarvis. "In short — why is this shutdown so different from the one in 1995 to 1996?"

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